One of the things that I’ve been adamant that I wanted to do while I have the F800GS this year is learn to ride off-road. Having never taken to the dirt previously.
I’ve done this by attending a couple of off-road schools and following this with some light greenlining. Being so new to it though, there’s still so much more for me to learn, and so, it was back Sweet Lamb in Wales to join Mark Mollineux at the Adventure Bike Academy.
I initially spent a day at the Adventure Bike Academy back in June where I learned the very basics of using a bike away from the tarmac. I have to say that I’ve been genuinely surprised with the GS’s capability throughout the year, especially when it comes to using the bike off-road. I'd been worried the bike would be too big and heavy for me to cope with in the mud and have instead found it incredibly capable. Sure, in many respects, it can’t be compared to a proper enduro bike, but given its weight, power and vast size, it manages to hold its own, even in the hands of a complete off-road beginner.
Another thing that I was pleased to discover, was that the naturally frugal and tractable nature of the engine really helps the bike when it takes to the dirt. The fairly modest 85hp might not seem like enough for some but it is still plenty for the road in most circumstances and when when it is hacking down a dirt track it’s proven to be brilliant. It can shift the bulk of the 217kg mass of the GS but also not spin up absolutely everywhere from trying to put too much power through the back wheel.
While I was on Continental TKC70s on my previous visit to Sweet Lamb, this time I opted for a more off-road oriented tyre and chose Metzelers Karoo 3 tyres to take care of duties in the dirt. And that’s exactly what they did, the difference between these and the TKCs was chalk and cheese. The Karoos allowed me to exploit even more of the potential hidden away in the BMW and actually let me take the GS to the very limit of its capabilities with the bike switched to the Enduro mode.
I found the GS came to me in a way that it hadn’t before thanks to the new rubber, it had so much more feel than I remember the Continentals having before, with the heavily treaded design and aggressive profile of the Metzelers I was able to get the bike to find more grip than I could before.
At the Adventure Bike Academy, you ride your own bike, which has been brilliant for me on the GS because it allows me to learn with the familiarity of the machine on which I’ve spent most of my time this year. I found this to help me more than trying to learn something new while also trying to get to grips with a different machine. Even the F800GS that I used on the BMW Off Road Skills training earlier in the year, run by four-time Dakar finisher Si Pavey, managed to feel notably different from the bike that I ride every day. Obviously the shortfall to using your own bike is that if you do drop it then you could be in trouble.
On the morning of the Saturday, I was pleasantly surprised to find that there were only four other riders between two instructors; making sure that we all received a lot of attention tailored to the needs of the individual rather than the collective. We started by going over a few of the basics again to clear up any patches that might have been a little rusty before moving on.
The first day was spent developing our existing skills, broken up with time to take on different sections of the WRC rally course, confidence in both myself and the GS building the whole time, the bike manages to inspire confidence in adverse conditions and being as easy as it is to get on with, was able to let me focus on learning rather than fighting to control the bike.
The second day continued where we left off from the first, with more of a focus on self-development before moving on to learning some more advanced techniques. At this point I was starting to feel myself pushing the GS to its very limit. I was ‘finding that the heavily reduced ABS was interfering and was starting to find the Traction Control becoming a slight pain as it would cut in while I was trying to get up a couple of grassed inclines which I took as a mark of progress. Both can be turned off manually but it would have been good to have the Enduro Pro mode that is featured on the updated F800GS and which I have also tried on the R1200GS, finding it to be very good.
Suddenly as I was hitting some steep inclines I also found I was hitting my head too, I then finally understood the tiny screen that comes fitted to the GS as standard. Though nearly useless when called upon to protect my face from the wind on the road, on the dirt its unobtrusive profile made much more sense as my helmet found the top of the larger touring spec screen (£287) for the fifth time.
Regardless of the minor limitations that I discovered with the bike, I’ve still found it to be a massively able machine that makes mincemeat of all but the toughest trials. For using the bike in conditions that might be found tricky under normal circumstances, it excels.
The Adventure Bike Academy has really opened my eyes to the BMW's genuine capability, it’s a bike that smirks at the thought of being challenged and then conquers as if it was mere child’s play. Unless you were genuinely only ever going to use it off-road, I would whole-heartedly recommend it as a machine that’s capable of anything.
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